Thursday, 20 October 2011
Holy Flying Circus (Monty Python docudrama, BBC Four)
Monty Python's Life of Brian has become such a part of the furniture that the furore that surrounded its release back in 1979 seems incredible. Holy Flying Circus, BBC Four's “fantastical re-imagining” of the controversy, was an imaginative, energetic and highly entertaining trip back to those troubled times.
The film, written by Tony Roche (The Thick of It) and directed by Owen Harris (Misfits), admitted to the viewer at the start that “Most of what you are about to see never actually happened”, before launching into a witty mixture of drama, animation and characteristically surreal detours.
Holy Flying Circus recreated the unpredictable feel of the Pythons' work perfectly, with the viewer never sure what exactly in what direction it was going to veer off on next.
The script also nodded cleverly to the show and the films: for instance, the church group that mobilised against Brian had a lot of the People's Front of Judea about it, while Michael Palin's wife was played as Terry Jones (Rufus Jones) playing a woman.
As well as the conflict with those opposed to the film, the controversy took its toll on the Pythons themselves – particularly Michael 'The Nicest Man in the World' Palin and the increasingly crabby and confrontational John Cleese.
Naturally, the friction between them erupted into a spectacular gravity-defying swordfight between puppets of the two men.
The cast were instantly recognisable as the people they played; in the case of Darren Boyd (playing Cleese as Basil Fawlty) and Charles Edwards (Palin), they were almost more like their characters than the comedians themselves.
The only bum note was Jason Thorpe's performance as Alan Dick, the chat show producer who wanted to stage a Heated Debate about the film. Unfortunately he, er, drew heavily on Matt Berry's performance as the infuriating boss in The IT Crowd in an annoyingly derivative way that seemed out of place with the originality of the rest of the film.
I've seen some headlines suggesting the Pythons are unhappy with the film, but for me Holy Flying Circus was a fitting and funny tribute to the group that also managed to make a few serious points about censorship, faith and how close to the edge comedy can – and should – go.